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Scott Dierking

A Winner In Our Hearts

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By Scott Dierking

Who among us does not love an underdog story? Admit it, we all get sucked in.

Why is it that we feel “Rocky� is such an overwhelming, compelling and powerful movie? It certainly was not the acting that drew us in. Comic strips have better writing. No, the reason that Rocky still wells a tear to the eye, even as we watch it for the 27th time on a do-nothing Saturday afternoon, is because that we can become one with the story.

Screenwriters cannot create better drama or elicit more heart tugging emotion than when they can pull the viewer in and make them one with a character. All the better, when they can make that character achieve impossible dreams.

This is no secret formula to creating a run-away blockbuster. Unfortunately for movie studios, the American public is one that does not get duped easily. They know when a fraud has been perpetrated upon them, and not any old underdog story will satiate the need to create the elation of experiencing the power of vicarious want.

New York Jet fans are lucky. For the past 11 years, we have been witnessing a true underdog story in its purest essence. What makes the story even tastier for us, is that it is a story of one of our own.

Wayne Chrebet, from Garfield, New Jersey has lived a NFL underdog story. In doing so, he has made Jet fans feel a stronger bond with the team that we exult. In some way, Chrebet has taken us on a vicarious NFL journey along with him. And we have to admit it, there is a little bit of Wayne Chrebet in each of us because of that journey.

Mention Wayne Chrebet to me and it is not all of the great plays that come flooding immediately to my mind, rather, it is the subtle nuances that Wayne exhibited. The steely eyed stare down the line of scrimmage, as he was about to take flight on a pass route. The stutter step and pitter pat of his feet as he was about to make a move. The subtle tug on his facemask after a completion and tackle. See, Wayne Chrebet allowed me to become one with his NFL experience.

The story began as a Free Agent walk-on from Hofstra. This represents Hollywood perfection in its circuitous route. Immediately, Wayne caught the eye of Rich Kotite. It wasn’t long before the end of pre-season, that Chrebet found himself climbing the depth charts and on the starting squad. The ball simply had a knack of finding him. And he simply had a knack of hanging onto it in traffic.

We want our heroes to be loyal. Who can forget the loyalty that Chrebet showed Kotite in his final game? As we are all aware, the Kotite regime was an utter disaster. That disaster culminated in a bottoming out of a Jet franchise at 1-15 in 1996. Rich Kotite stepped aside before the final game. Leon Hess allowed Kotite to coach that final game.

Wayne Chrebet did not forget the opportunity that Kotite gave him to start his career. All of the other players had their bags packed and the cars running in the parking lot, counting down the final seconds to an abysmal season. Not Wayne. Wayne chose this last game in the 1996 season to acknowledge the man that gave him a chance–even though that man would not be there the next season.

Who can forget the sight of Wayne, literally scratching and clawing at the turf as his forced fumble, pried loose from a 3rd, 4th and 5th effort closed another loss to the Miami Dolphins 31-28? Wayne, with a body strewn over him, pounded at the turf, even though he had given a Herculean effort that day. We could all empathize.

NFL heroes don’t often come in 5’10� packages, like Wayne did. Who can blame us, if we didn’t even expect to hear from Wayne again, after his 1995 rookie season? After all, the Jets in 1996 had with the number one pick in the draft selected Keyshawn Johnson. With all of the bluster and hype that Keyshawn brought to New York, one could have expected Chrebet to be literally dwarfed. He was not.

We want our heroes to be fiery. With the torturous start to the 1999 season, Chrebet had badly sprained his ankle in the final pre-season game. By game 5, he had declared himself ready to start. Bill Parcells was not just going to take his word for it though. He decided to place a well-aimed kick to that ankle, just to assure himself that it was game-worthy. What true Jet fan did not see the fire in Chrebet’s eyes, and feel that pain for ourself?

We want our heroes to be humble. Chrebet had to endure many barbs, and probably more than his fair share. He was called a mascot. He had to play second fiddle to Keyshawn’s press rantings. He was mentioned as a “flashlight� to Keyshawn’s “shining star�. Through it all, it was difficult to hear Wayne even give a murmur in acknowledgement of what he felt.

Wayne Chrebet had a way that made us believe in the Jets, and as amazingly, he made us believe in ourselves. In the Monday Night Miracle, Chrebet caught the 24 yard touchdown pass that tied the score for the first time, since the Jet had been trailing throughout the game. Even though Miami came right down the field and scored again, we knew, we just knew that the Jets were going to come back and win that game.

How many times have we as Jet fans been able to feel that way about ourselves? Wayne Chrebet sparked those emotions in us. Chrebet allowed us to feel good about ourselves, and believe that good things could happen to us and our team.

Unfortunately, the last three years have not been kind to Chrebet. Injuries and recurring concussions have made Wayne a shell of the player that he once was. The NFL is not kind to 188-pound players that make their living going across the middle. The NFL is not really interested in our little vicarious exercise through Wayne Chrebet.

Myriad thoughts raced through the mind, as I watched Chrebet lay motionless on the ground last Sunday. Through Wayne’s blank stare, I started to envision my own fast-reel clips of Chrebet moments. Whether the snapshot was of the toes straddling the sideline or endline, the patented in the air crouch and catch or the subtle dip of the shoulder to gain leverage and position, I prefer to think that Wayne relived each of his 580 receptions and 41 touchdowns that he earned in his career, while he was prone on the Meadowlands turf.

Wayne, thank you for being a hero. I am sure that you would not want to be defined as an underdog, but we can’t find a more apt description. Most of all, thank you for allowing us to be a part of you and part of the New York Jets.

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